Tag Archive for academy of okinawan karate

White Belt Wisdom

Inspiration comes from the strangest places.

Three of us were promoted to black belt together, and last night it was my turn to demonstrate at the dojo’s graduation night. I chose to demonstrate an empty hand kata and a sai kata, then break a few boards. I could probably run these kata in my sleep at this point (I certainly had enough dreams about them as I was first learning them), and I’ve done this break before, so it shouldn’t have been a big deal.

Yet I’m not a fan of demos and tournaments. I can do readings, panels and presentations at conventions all day, but put me in a gi in front of everyone—especially families and strangers—and I get this funky self-consciousness thing going on. I also have this added false pressure that says, “You’re a black belt now, don’t screw this up.” The demo reflects on me, my instructors, and my school. As such, I had a case of the shaky nerves as we got closer to showtime.

Shortly before I was set to take the mat, we had the white belts all lined up and ready to walk out for their demonstration and promotion. This seven- or eight-year-old boy looks out at the crowd and asks, “We don’t have to go out there by ourselves, do we?”

We assure him that no, they will all be out there demonstrating their punches and kicks together, and he breathes this huge sigh of relief. I tell him I have to go out there all by myself, though. Kid says:

Yeah, but you’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have! It should be easy for you.

Kid was dead on.

So I went out there and rocked the shit out of that demo.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday Catchup: Haunted

My karate dojo had its annual haunted house over the weekend, and once again we had a great time putting a scare into people. We warn parents that it may be a little intense for the younger children, but inevitably we’ll get some folks taking four- and five-year-old kids through.

Good times.

Right off the bat, we try to show them that we’re not playing around:

Babies

What you don’t see is the truly terrifying “Big Baby”

For such a small haunted house, it strikes a good balance between gruesome scenery and jump-out-at-you thrills. Some of it is very effective, too, getting screams even out of adults who walk through the first half without much jumping.

Of course, then there are the kids screaming “I want out of here!” less than halfway through. Those are our favorite.

My eldest doesn’t go through. His first time through a few years back was enough. Now his imagination makes it much bigger and scarier than it really is. Meanwhile, my middle child walks through unfazed. He loves it. When he gets to my spot, he watches my schtick, then says “hi, Dad,” and moves on.

I’ll have to see about getting my eldest on the inside next year. He’d have a blast with it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Trias Memorial Workout

Monday was the anniversary of Grand Master Trias’s death, and the Academy of Okinawan Karate dojos held memorial workouts in his honor. This picture was shot after the workout.

Trias Memorial Workout - After

What you can't see is how drenched with sweat our gis are

Standing in the dojo, I couldn’t tell there were two different colors of light coming down on the group. Now it’s obvious: the left half is under yellow/orange light and the right half is under white. Unfortunately I don’t have the Photoshop/Lightroom skills to fix that yet. The photographer (*ahem*) probably should have stepped in to override the group arrangement, too. Ah well. The participants are already anxious to get their hands on the photo.

I chose to shoot without flash because of the distance and distribution of the group. I used the kit lens pulled out to a wide angle and cranked the ISO up to 800 to get a good shutter speed inside, especially with some fidgety little ones in the front row.

The set with the before shots can be found here.

As a side note, I think I’m going to stop using Snapfish/Walmart for my prints. These pics came back, and they clearly altered my exposure in one shot and made the people too dark. I’m going to talk to the folks at Peoria Camera Shop and see how they handle processing during printing. Hell, maybe their classes will help me compensate for the lighting issues I ran into.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Roundhouse Kick

The only photo opportunity I was able to make was graduation night at the Academy of Okinawan Karate this evening, and I captured a shot of one of the little guys I work with frequently at the dojo I train at.

High Roundhouse

Hai-yaaaaa!!

I a perfect world I’d have backed off a bit and not cut off his foot, but I was shooting with a 50mm prime, was backed up to a wall, and he was standing fairly close. The main reason I like it, though, is this little guy is throwing a nice roundhouse kick to head level. For a kid his age, who just learned the kick, this is pretty impressive.

Probably not by coincidence, he’s also one of the more attentive and conscientious kids in class. Good job, kid, keep up the great work.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Sensei Smash

I finally uploaded the photos from last Saturday’s Break Day at the Academy of Okinawan Karate’s Eureka Dojo, and I selected the photo of my instructor, Sensei Trent Miller (nidan) for this week’s Photo Friday entry.

Sensei's Break

Four boards hammer fist

Shot with the 18-55mm kit lens on my Digital Rebel XSi. No flash. I cranked the ISO up to 800 to compensate for the indoor lighting. Normally I’d go lower, but the overcast day meant even less light than usual in the dojo. I spread the autofocus across the boards and the front of Sensei’s uniform as he prepared, then used continuous shutter to capture the motion.

I managed to capture all of the students’ breaks this year, so I’m happy with the results. I may experiment with capturing motion blur in the hands, but the actual Break Day isn’t the time for experimenting. Maybe I’ll work with my instructors on that another time.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Break Day Vid

Saturday was Break Day at the Academy of Okinawan Karate, and this year I broke three boards with a hammer fist strike. I had a student record it on my phone. He held it at a funky angle, but you can see what’s happening:

The cheering you’re hearing is the word senpai, which roughly translates to senior student. In a sense it’s what we’d think of as a mentor or big brother. I help out around the dojo, help teach, and substitute teach when Sensei is gone, so I get a fancy title.

The break was easier than I expected. I cut out the boring parts of my practice strikes, so there I am psyching myself up for a moment before doing the strike. Next time I’ll have to decide between doing three boards with a vertical punch, or moving up to four boards with a stomp kick. Any time a student wants to break an additional board, our school has the student perform that break first with a stomp kick to get a feel for the strength of the stack with an added board. If I do four, I’ll have a little more freedom of choice for breaks during demos or future break days.

The board is a simple pine board. They grab pine planks at the lumber yard, have them cut into the boards, and we bust ‘em up. There is no other prep like pre-cuts or baking. Younger students get smaller boards, but they still break pine. It’s all an exercise in boosting confidence, so the instructors make sure every student is able to perform their break.

It’s a lot of fun, and I’ll be posting our students’ break pics in the near future.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: The Family That Fights Together

This week’s Photo Friday 2011 entry was taken at the Academy of Okinawan Karate’s graduation night at the Morton dojo. Here I managed to capture Mr Joey Johnston, the head of the Morton dojo, running a kata while his stepfather, Shuri-ryu Chief Instructor Shihan Joseph Walker, looks on.

Scan for New Opponents

Mr Joey Johnston runs a kata while Shihan Joseph Walker looks on

The Morton dojo has plenty of smooth, white light, so I used my 18-55mm kit lens with a custom white balance for this shot. For the rest of the set I switched between no flash and using an external SpeedLite with automatic white balance because the light was a bit low.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: The Karate Seminar

I selected two pictures from the International Shuri-Ryu Association’s martial arts seminar in Fort Wayne, Indiana last weekend to illustrate a point: karate is not just about standing up with an opponent and punching and kicking.

Yes, that’s where the concentration is, and to look at most of our kata, it’s easy to assume that’s all that’s going on. However, karate, and Shuri-ryu especially, can include takedowns, pressure point attacks, joint locks, pins/holds, and more. In the following photos, Shuri Cup tournament competitors can be seen demonstrating takedowns mixed into the bunkai (simply put, a demonstration of application) of the kata.

Takedown

Mr Nate England takes down Mr Joey Johnston, a student and an instructor respectively at the Academy of Okinawan Karate.

While we do incorporate judo techniques into the curriculum, we don’t necessarily turn kata demonstration or sparring  into a judo match. In both cases, the demonstrators took their opponent down, but they did not go to the ground with them. Sure, they could get down and submit the opponent in an armbar, but there’s already another opponent ready to come in and attack. As such, the demonstrators stayed on their feet while eliminating their opponent.

Ouch!

Mr Gustavo Lugo eliminates his opponent with a throat strike.

Grappling was a heavy component of the seminar, especially in the sessions I attended. I picked up several new techniques, especially some ground fighting techniques in Shihan Joseph Walker’s Haganah session. Fortunately a lot of the basic concepts were familiar to me, and that made it a lot easier to understand what was demonstrated. I saw and learned a lot, and I feel like my own karate will be better for it.

I only took pictures during the Shuri Cup, as the rest of the time I was too busy practicing to carry a camera. In the downtime between sessions I was too busy getting a drink and jotting notes. The Friday & Saturday sessions, as well as the tournament, took place in a Masonic Lodge hall, and with the available light I opted to use my 50mm prime lens. I knew I’d be shooting rapid fire to catch karate techniques, so I opted against RAW. I set a custom white balance using my instructor Sensei Miller’s gi as the white model, then fired away. I’m happy with the above pics, as I was mostly shooting to capture the moment rather than look for a great photograph. I only carried so much over to the practice hall and had no idea what to expect in terms of lighting, distance, crowds, etc. I also didn’t want to be the guy distracting competitors with a bright flash in their face, especially when they’re supposed to be blocking punches and then aiming their own punches and kicks back at their opponents.

You can see the rest of the set on Flickr, including pictures of the rest of the competitors and the judges. There was a lot of talent out there, and it was a lot of fun to watch.

All in all I had a blast, and finding a gyro joint serving both Kronos Gyros and Vienna Beef hot dogs until four in the morning was a nice bonus. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Yes, I Survived the Seminar

I attended the 20th annual International Shuri-ryu Association Martial Arts Seminar in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this past weekend, and I’m just now coming up for air. The seminar was up against the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, and though it would have been nice to see John, Cullen, and the rest of the Evileye crew, I think I made the right decision.

This is the first year the Academy of Okinawan Karate brought brown belts to the seminar, and I really learned a lot. I didn’t get a lot of new techniques, but I refined a lot of what I already know and I was able to make a lot of new connections and look at some of my karate in a whole new way. It reinforced how good my teachers at the AOK are, and how fortunate I am to have such a great school so close to my home.

This was a Square Sculpture...

This was a square sculpture until Shihan Joseph Walker struck it with a backfist punch.

The seminar structure is simple: students (mostly black belts) spend three days attending workouts and breakout sessions with the top instructors from our style, as well as from other instructors who had worked with or been influenced by Grand Master Robert A. Trias. It was amazing watching some of these guys move and soaking up their knowledge, and it’s clear these guys have a true passion for the martial arts.

Friday night also included the Shuri Cup, a kata tournament open to black belts. I’m told the competition was small this year, but the competitors put on a good show. I took several pictures, and I’ll be talking more about that for this week’s Photo Friday.

 

This Bench...

This was a solid stone bench until Shihan dropped a hammer fist on it.

We enjoyed our time in Fort Wayne, too. It reminded us a little of Peoria, and though we didn’t stray far from the hotel and convention center, we did find a local bar that became our favorite haunt, and I found a joint that served Kronos Gyros and Vienna Beef hot dogs until the wee hours of the morning. For a while there, I thought I’d discovered Heaven.

Like the writing and comics conventions I attend, I came back exhausted but re-energized and excited about what I do. I already look forward to the next one.

For now, though, I best get a good night’s sleep. I’ve got a lot of writing to do if I want to keep being able to afford these things.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Karate!

Tonight’s Photo Friday is just a hit and run photo drop to show that yes, I did it! Tonight was graduation night at the Academy of Okinawan Karate, and I brought my camera along to capture some of the action.

I kind of like this one:

Gold Belts Kiai

Attack of the gold belts!

Okay, technically they’re still white belts just getting promoted to yellow, and there are some things I’m sure their instructors might adjust, but it’s fun watching their enthusiasm when they walk through a basic punching form and kiai together.

Shot with a Canon 18-55mm kit lens, bouncing a SpeedLite 430EX flash off the ceiling.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Bounce Flash and Timing

The Academy of Okinawan Karate ran their Winter Tournament earlier this month, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, I decided to go back to shooting with flash rather than mess with focus problems due to uneven lighting. Rather than let a good lens continually compensate for rough skills, why not improve those skills, right?

Here’s what a nice bounce flash got me:

Mr Johnston Kanku Sho

Mr Joey Johnston, 4th-degree black belt, Shuri-Ryu

The lighting is soft and uniform, his gi is crisp and white, and there are no harsh shadows in the background or redeye problems in the audience.

The nice thing you wouldn’t catch right away about this shot, though, is it was easy to capture. I’m familiar with the kata he ran in the tournament, and I knew he would hit this pose and hold it for a moment. As soon as he struck the pose, I was ready with the shutter.

Where it gets tricky, however, is timing action shots. Continuous shooting modes help, but it takes a real toll on the external flash and I’m lucky to get bursts at all out of it sometimes. The more I fire it, the longer it takes to recharge the capacitor, especially as the batteries start to drain.

That’s when it takes good timing and a bit of luck. Consider this photo:

Ms Walker Kanku Sho

Ms Bree Walker, 2nd-degree black belt, Shuri-Ryu

Ms Walker ran the same kata, and there’s a point where the performer leaps into the air, kicks their hand (representing a kick to the head), and lands on one knee to scan for their next opponent. I knew when the leap was coming, tried my best to time the shot, and caught the moment of impact.

Once again I bounced the flash, so I have the smooth lighting I sought earlier, and a nice capture of the action.

I should add, too, that I do have RAW versions of each of these pictures. I shot RAW+JPEG for the convenience of getting these pictures posted to the web quickly. I’ll take the time to go back and play with the RAW files in the near future, but probably not until I finish writing The Pack: Lie with the Dead.

Another lesson learned: remember fresh AA batteries for the external flash. It became useless about halfway through the tournament, and I had to switch to the on-camera flash. Its recharge rate wasn’t wonderful, either, and even worse it wouldn’t let me shoot at all while it was recharging. (With the external flash, the camera just adjusted the settings to shoot without flash when it couldn’t fire.) Should’ve been a no-brainer, but I didn’t take the prep time the night before, and that morning I hurried out the door to make it on time because I lost an hour shoveling the drive first.

Ah, well. The goal isn’t perfection, the goal is always improving. The remainder of the tournament photos can be found on Flickr.

UPDATE: John made a good point in the comments — I haven’t mentioned my rig! I use a Canon Speedlite 430EX IIexternal flash. Though it’s capable of use off-camera, I’ve not experimented with that yet. May not be a bad idea at tournaments, but it’s not an expense I’m ready for right now. The dojo has a standard, white-panel drop ceiling, and I just angle the head of the flash toward the ceiling. It’s not straight up, it’s at about 45 degrees. In fact, I’ll bounce the flash about every chance I get, as that generally gets the most pleasing results to my eye.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Legacies

I delayed Photo Friday this week so I could take some pictures at the anniversary banquet for Shihan Joseph Walker on Saturday night. The banquet celebrated his 50th year practicing the martial arts, and several of his students from the Academy of Okinawan Karate, including many of the 40 black belts he promoted during the Academy’s 30 years in operation, were in attendance.

I didn’t take near as many pictures as planned because I was running the slideshow and helping with the video presentations, but I made sure to grab a few photos of the Kamiza.

The left side of the Kamiza display

The left side of the Kamiza display

The kamiza is the highest seat in the room, often the north wall. In a martial arts dojo there is often a Kamidana Shinto shrine placed on the kamiza, and it’s the wall we bow to upon entering the dojo. In the Academy of Okinawan Karate dojo, a cross replaces the kamidana and students are encouraged to bow to what they believe in.

The right side of the Kamiza dispaly

The right side of the Kamiza dispaly

When a student is promoted to black belt, the school holds a kamiza ceremony where they formally join the other yudansha in the top spot in the dojo. The new black belt brings a bottle of sake to share with the other members of the ceremony, and Shihan keeps the bottle for use in future ceremonies to represent the other black belts. The bottles were set up at the banquet hall to represent the school’s history, and the legacy Shihan has created so far in promoting 40 black belts in the school’s 40 years of operation.

The weekend went very well, and Peoria’s Journal Star ran a nice article congratulating Shihan on his 50 years in the martial arts. The banquet was followed by a selection of seminars on Sunday afternoon, and by all accounts everyone had a great time.

I feel fortunate to be part of such a great school, and while I intend to celebrate earning my Ikkyu (first degree brown belt) rank very soon, I look forward to the day I’ll earn the right to add my own sake bottle to Shihan’s collection.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.